If World Cup success was measured by fan support, Tonga would be laughing all the way to the Final, with the Pacific island nation enjoying some of the best support of any of the teams in New Zealand.
About 5 000 people, all of them wearing something red and white in the team's colours, turned out to their first public training in Auckland on Tuesday.
The flag-waving, happy, laughing and singing masses in the concrete stands at Western Springs Stadium danced to island music and cheered their team's practice tries as loudly as the wayward passes and dropped catches.
When they finished the evening training in preparation for Friday's World Cup opener against host New Zealand, the Tongan underdogs walked around the stadium, clapping to acknowledge and appreciate their fans, and receiving more loud and lasting cheers.
"This is absolutely over the top," said amazed lock Joe Tui'neau.
"It's normal for Tongan people to be dancing around, hoo-ing and ha-ing and enjoying themselves, but to get here and see this ... it's like the whole population of Tonga is right here right now. It's awesome.
"When we stepped out on the field and saw the crowd, the boys were bouncing all over the place. It seems like we never even got tired," he added.
It's easy to believe Tui'neau, considering Tonga is a kingdom populated by 106 000 spread around 170 islands north of New Zealand.
Auckland's population of Tongans began showing their passion before the team even flew in at Monday lunchtime. South Auckland stores have sold out on the Tonga flag, and an estimated 6 000 fans showed up at the airport to greet the team, closing the car park for hours and taking airport officials and police by surprise.
By comparison, only a couple of hundred reportedly turned up at the airport to welcome Australia on Tuesday.
From the airport, a convoy of cars festooned in national flags followed Tonga to a church service in the suburb of Epsom and caused a moving gridlock. The support has stunned and inspired the team.
"It's unreal, it fills us with pride," Tui'neau said.
He added the support was a boost for a team already confident of performing well against the All Blacks, whom they have never beaten.
"Everybody knows it's going to be a tough game, but the guys also believe we're going to go out and play with our hearts, and if we try to make the least amount of mistakes, we'll be in with a chance if we can keep it close," he said.
What filled them with confidence, he said, was "the unity, and especially pride," he said, tapping his hand on his heart.
"Just the pride of playing for your country and your king."
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